X-Men: The Last Stand

I know! Sometimes I see current movies! Amazing!

My anticipation level for X-Men 3 was about as high as it gets for a movie (which isn’t really that high). I loved the first two X-Men films. And even as a minor fanboy, but more as a major pop culture critic, I was perturbed when Bryan Singer left the director’s chair (for Superman no less! DC Comics… grumble, grumble…) and was replaced by Brett Ratner — director of such fine fair as Rush Hour, Rush Hour 2 and Rush Hour 3. Oh, and he also directed a bunch of Mariah Carey videos.

But as the opening approached, I stifled my doubts of Ratner’s ability. In fact, after catching Fox’s 7 minute preview of the film, I was pretty giddy.

It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly my feelings went south during the movie. Maybe, um, in the first five minutes? My biggest gripe was the writing — not only the story itself but a lot of the dialogue. You can’t blame Ratner for that. At least not all of it. But you can blame him for the look of the film. Along with the dialogue — the silly costumes, the usually too-well-lit scenes and the fact that Beast looks like a Smurf pushed the film from comic-book-esque to cartoonish. Never a good move.

I confess I haven’t read the Dark Phoenix saga of the X-Men (on which the film apparently draws heavily), but even if it were based entirely on that saga in the comics, the film would be out of place in the universe of the other two X-Men movies.

In those first movies, there was an intriguing storyline of collectivism versus individualism. It was the Humans against the Mutants. The first movie pitted a politician calling for Mutant Registration against the mutants — one of whom, Magneto, had already faced a similar political policy in his lifetime when, as a boy, he was sent to a concentration camp in Nazi Germany.

That X-Men film did an excellent job portraying the dichotomy between Professor X’s and Magento’s approaches to the situation. Magento chooses (perhaps ironically, perhaps justifiably) force while the Professor prefers diplomacy. But in that tension, the audience finds itself rooting for both sides. When Magneto takes the scheming politician prisoner, we can root for vengeance but we also sense when Magneto crosses the line.

That is the greatness of Singer’s direction of those films: balancing the mutants’ plight on the edge of survival and eliciting our very human responses to their choices.

In X2, a rogue government agent attempts to enact a mutant genocide. Magneto’s gang and the X-Men must work together to stop him. Again, the film sets up a mutant vs. human, collectivism vs. individualism, life vs. death tension.

These themes lent the films a depth that The Last Stand lacks entirely. Though a human vs. mutant conflict is introduced when a company develops a “cure” for mutation, this conflict is never pushed far enough to make the apocalyptic ending feasible. Magneto, as usual, injudiciously stirs the pot, but too quickly it becomes a mutant against mutant war. The final scenes of the assault on the “mutant cure” clinic are just senseless slaughter. Rather than humanizing the mutants, The Last Stand animalizes them.

This complete lack of subtlety can pretty much be blamed on Ratner. Rather than respect Marvel Comics’ “heroes with feet of clay” philosophy, Ratner turns the mutants into god-like creatures living on earth — you know, like effing Superman. This may make for exciting summer movie fare, but it doesn’t resonate with me like the first two films.

If anyone needs me, I’m going to be in my parents’ attic re-reading my Kitty Pryde and Wolverine mini-series.